Brexit Update 18/10/2018

Brexit talks haven’t made enough progress to make it worth calling a special Brexit summit next month. Now Prime Minister May is considering a new way to break the Irish border deadlock that is holding up the talks. But it’s not without risks at home and still might not be enough to solve the problem.

As reported earlier this week PM May was due to address the European Union leaders last night before they went off for dinner without her, and at least some were left puzzled by her presentation. The overall consensus was that she hadn’t said much that was new but she is thinking of something quite new, even if she didn’t go into much detail. 

May is considering extending the transition period, which is already due to keep the U.K. bound to EU rules for 21 months after exit day. She sees that as a way of breaking the impasse over the Irish border, Tim Ross and Ian Wishart report from Bloomberg.

PM May signaled her willingness to give ground during talks with fellow EU leaders, according to a person familiar with the situation, and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani confirmed the issue was raised. 

Extending the transition could help as it would make it less likely that the EU’s proposed solution would ever have to be invoked. The move could potentially break the impasse. But it would come at a high political price in London. Many Brexit-backers will see it as a deferral of the true Brexit they long for. The Euroskeptic Daily Mail was, well, skeptical, on its front page this morning, "ANOTHER YEAR IN BREXIT LIMBO?".

Reports suggest that PM May's party won't be happy with this but why? May’s Tory party would find it difficult to be fighting the next general election, due in 2022, with the U.K still inside the EU single market and customs union. While an extension could potentially help May sell an eventual deal at home, it won’t remove the need to accept the most controversial part of the EU’s proposal that if talks on the future relationship break down, Northern Ireland could effectively be split off from the rest of the U.K.

That’s probably why chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier reckons talks need “much more time.” As French President Emmanuel Macron called for urgency last night, Barnier called for patience, vowing to continue working “calmly and patiently.” November had been touted as a possible date to get a final Brexit deal signed off. But a one-off gathering was only ever going to be called if talks made some progress this month. A November summit is still possible, but some diplomats and government officials are now looking at December for the next meaningful rendezvous. 

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